DK has just released Ultimate LEGO Star Wars, a completely new large-format reference book written by The Brothers Brick’s Senior Editor Chris Malloy and Editor-in-Chief Andrew Becraft.
The authors will be holding panel discussions and signings over the coming weeks, including at BrickCon 2017 later this week in Seattle, and we’re pleased to bring our readers the very first interview with the authors.
TBB: How is this book different from previous LEGO Star Wars books from DK? It seems like every book is the “Ultimate” this, that or the other.
Andrew: <laughs> Well, it’s a pretty accurate title, actually. The book is over three hundred pages long, and it really does cover every LEGO set ever released, from 1999 through the summer of 2017.
Chris: And every variant of every minifig, though I’m sure there’s someone on the Internet somewhere who will find some rare variant we missed. In fact, we know there are a few misprint variants that we intentionally chose to overlook, since they’re not intentional variants from LEGO.
Andrew: True! By its very nature, the book is incomplete the moment it’s published, since LEGO is always releasing new sets. For example, the book does include the new UCS Millennium Falcon released on October 1st, but not the sets from The Last Jedi. I guess that means we’ll be writing a Second Edition in the future!
The Brothers Brick: How did this book project come about?
Andrew Becraft: TBB editor Rod Gillies had already been working with DK on several books, including LEGO Star Wars: Build Your Own Adventure, in which Rod built all of the book’s models. The editor at DK that Rod had been working with also contacted The Brothers Brick asking if someone on our staff would like to work with them on a project.
Chris Malloy: After we discussed with Rod the experience he had with DK, we talked to the publisher and got the ball rolling. That was last summer, so it’s been more than a year since we started work on the book.
TBB: So you didn’t have to pitch the book project to the publisher? They came to you?
Chris: That’s right — they already had the project in mind, and were looking for subject matter experts to work with them on the book’s text.
Andrew: If only every author were this lucky! I’ve been writing poetry and fiction for a quarter century, and I can guarantee that I’ll go the rest of my life without a publisher asking me to write them a book of poems or a collection of short stories!
TBB: You’re obviously both huge Star Wars fans as well as LEGO fans, or the publishers wouldn’t have asked you to write this book. Tell us about your experience as Star Wars fans.
Chris: I’ve been a fan of both LEGO and Star Wars for nearly as long as I can remember, and I built LEGO X-Wings and TIE Fighters long before the official theme using elements from my collection of space sets. I think the X-Wing had a trans-blue canopy, because that was the closest shape I could get with the parts available at the time.
I still vividly recall when I first received the catalog announcing the upcoming LEGO Star Wars theme in 1999. I immediately preordered the 7140 X-Wing set. The sets have obviously come a long way since then, and the newer X-Wings are objectively more accurate and better designed than those old ones, but I still have a distinct fondness for the simplicity of the original sets. Just for kicks, in our latest review of the new UCS Millennium Falcon, I cracked out the old Millennium Falcon from 2000 just to take a photo comparing it to the latest and greatest set in the Star Wars theme.
Andrew: I actually came to Star Wars fandom fairly late. Long-time TBB readers know that I grew up in Japan in the 70’s and 80’s, and my parents didn’t really try very hard to keep my brother and me connected to American pop culture.
Sure, Star Wars was popular enough there, and I remember role-playing scenes from Empire Strikes Back in the Michigan snow (the one year we lived in the States) before the movie had even come out, based presumably on scenes from the trailer that my friends had seen. For the longest time, I thought stormtroopers were robots, because I’d only seen snippets of any given Star Wars movie when they were playing on TV screens in a store or something.
Those aren’t just my earliest Star Wars memories, they’re pretty much my only Star Wars memories until I sat down and watched them a decade or more later when I was a teenager in the 90’s.
But then I was instantly hooked. My wife and I went to see the re-releases of the Classic Trilogy in 1997, we read all the Expanded Universe novels together — like the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn –and some of my first MOCs (before I knew what a “MOC” was) as an adult builder (before I knew there was such a thing as an AFOL) were X-wings and TIE fighters. I made a Darth Vader minifig using the old black Classic Castle helmets I had from the 80’s.
And then LEGO released its Star Wars line in 1999, and I bought a shopping cart full — one of every set — on the day they were released. My first online LEGO community “home” was From Bricks to Bothans, and I think that’s where I first ran into Chris, way back in 2003 or 2004.
Here’s a K-wing from the Expanded Universe, full of yellowed white plates, photographed on the living room floor. I can’t blame youth, since I got my first digital camera for my 30th birthday!
TBB: LEGO fans talk about a “dark ages” when they don’t do anything with LEGO. Star Wars fans seem to feel the same way about the Prequel Trilogy.
Andrew: It was a dark time indeed…
Chris: So, I still enjoy the prequel films, for all their (very many) flaws. At the end of the day, they still have the two things I love most about Star Wars: space battles and lightsaber fights. Everything else is just icing on the cake. But will I always choose to watch the original Star Wars films instead when given the choice? Absolutely. Or even Rogue One, which I quite thoroughly enjoyed.
TBB: Is this a good book for kids?
Chris: Absolutely — it’s got pictures from cover to cover, with lots of depth on the characters and vehicles. I would have spent hours poring over this as a kid. Even if you don’t own all the sets (and really, who does?), there’s lots of inspiration in older sets for things to build.
Andrew: Sure, but it’s not just a children’s book. We wrote the book with fellow LEGO enthusiasts in mind — “AFOLs” like ourselves. It’s as much a history of LEGO Star Wars for builders and collectors as it is a fun picture book for kids to look at.
TBB: Does it include an exclusive minifig?
Andrew: People know I’m the “minifig guy,” and I’ve certainly enjoyed the exclusive figs that previous DK books have included. I even bought the LEGO Star Wars Character Encyclopedia when I realized while writing the Boba Fett spread that I didn’t have the unique white Fett fig inspired by Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art. That was too cool not to have. But you trade a lot of real content for a really thick book on a shelf when the book’s massive cover includes an inset for a minifig. So, that book was 288 pages, but for about the same thickness on a store shelf, you get more than 30 additional pages in our book.
Chris: But for collectors out there, the deluxe edition of the book includes some really cool inserts showing the design process of several Star Wars minifigs, like Aayla Secura.
TBB: What kinds of information did you include for adults?
Chris: I included a lot of information about the parts in the sets —
Andrew: Chris has a BrickLink parts catalog in his head.
Chris: And you’ve clearly watched every movie about three hundred times.
Andrew: Just the Classic Trilogy. On VHS. On a CRT. I don’t hold with this newfangled nonsense. Guh, Millennials! “Is this Blu-Ray farm to table? Can I get my Prequel Trilogy gluten-free?”
Chris: Okay, you old codger. <rolls eyes> I’ll take my Star Wars in 4K, please. Anyway, I tried to mention whenever a Star Wars set had a brand new mold or special print. Lots of Star Wars sets are infamous for their large sticker sheets, but there have also been plenty that had new printed elements, and it’s interesting to see them show up again in other sets later. I also like noting how elements are repurposed from their original use to create something new, like the targeting sensors on the UCS TIE Interceptor made from minifigure shovels.
Andrew: “Can Jar Jar Snapchat me a midichlorian?” Okay, I’ll shut up now.
The book also includes behind-the-scenes quotes and facts from the LEGO Star Wars design team. Those were all just placeholders when we were writing our text, so I’m looking forward to reading those myself with the finished book in hand.
TBB: What kinds of reference materials did you use during writing?
Andrew: Even though we’re both life-long Star Wars and LEGO fans, neither of us owns every LEGO set released since 1999, and we haven’t seen every episode of long-running TV shows like The Clone Wars. I’m not the parts monkey that Chris is, so I relied heavily on set inventories from reference sites like Brickset, and verified my “in-universe” descriptions with various Star Wars reference materials, like the awesome DK “Visual Dictionary” and “Incredible Cross-sections” books.
Chris: I didn’t just pull stuff out of my head, like Andrew seems to think I did. I also purchased a number of non-LEGO Star Wars reference books, to ensure that everything I wrote is accurate to previously published material, and I used Bricklink and Brickset too, along with sites like Wookiepedia.
Andrew: Yeah, I’d usually have four or five tabs open in a browser, along with a stack of books next to me. We definitely wanted to get all the information right! Fortunately, the book was a team effort.
TBB: Tell us about that — what was the collaboration like?
Chris: Andrew and I worked really closely together, obviously. We used Slack to communicate and ask each other questions.
Andrew: Mostly me asking him about parts. <grins> But it was great having the editorial and design teams at DK in London, since we’d often be able to verify our text on layouts as soon as the next morning, and there’d be a new batch of pages for us to work on — a classic “follow the sun” model I’ve seen succeed when leading software development teams in multiple locations. It was fun seeing that same work model be effective for content creation.
Chris: The book is intended to be fully comprehensive, so information about some of the sets was really hard to find in some cases. Although DK was able to work with LEGO to get fairly comprehensive lists of sets, our research still found some omissions of particularly unusual sets, so we were able to suggest them back to DK and LEGO for inclusion. A few we ended up leaving out after much discussion (like the LEGO Star Wars pen sets) while others we included (like the LEGO Star Wars board game). For the visuals, the designers used official, high-resolution LEGO photos whenever they could, but even LEGO themselves don’t have the best photos of some particularly elusive sets. So, Huw Millington at Brickset ended up providing DK with some of the photos for things like magazine-exclusive polybag sets.
Andrew: Which is a great example of how collaborative the project was overall. And Huw’s photos are indistinguishable from the official photos around them — you’d never know they weren’t straight from a photographer in Billund.
TBB: How did you divide the work between you? Did the publisher assign specific pages to you?
Andrew: No, we worked out between us which pages we’d each like to work on. That said, I was on a two-week trip for work to Spain when the project started last September, so Chris had a bit of a head start, and I never quite caught up to him — which is why he has a very well-earned first credit as the primary writer.
Chris: We’d usually divvy up a batch of spreads based on what we felt we knew best. For example, Andrew wrote all the spreads about Star Wars Rebels, since I hadn’t seen all of the show up to that point yet.
Andrew: I actually specifically watched it so I could write those spreads — I wouldn’t have watched a “kids’ cartoon” otherwise, but it’s actually a really excellent show that broadens the Star Wars universe quite a bit. Highly recommended. <thumbs up>
Chris: I think the coolest experience actually happened six months ago, during Emerald City Comic-Con in Seattle. We met Thrawn author Timothy Zahn in an autograph queue, and ended up holding up the line for several minutes talking to him about the new Thrawn minifig.
We were having such a great conversation that Andrew whispered to him, “We’re actually Star Wars authors, too!” He was already pretty excited about the Thrawn minifig, since he hadn’t seen it in person yet, but he perked up even more, and asked us all about the book, since it hadn’t officially been announced yet.
Andrew: That was so awesome! We’re not in the same league as a sci-fi author like Tim (I’ve decided that it’s okay to call Mr. Zahn “Tim” now). But I’ve loved DK’s books for as long as I can remember — I’ve even said that The Brothers Brick has had a Dorling Kindersley-like aesthetic in our choices of presentation style for the LEGO creations we feature.
So, I had an enormous level of respect for the publisher already. Then, to write a book for them and have that book available in just about any book store you can walk into is incredibly humbling. I keep pinching myself and thinking, “Me? Really?”
Chris: Ya, I wouldn’t ever compare myself to an author like Mr. Zahn. But I’m still beyond excited to have written a book with the official Star Wars and LEGO logos on the cover.